Thinking Differently About Goals and Wins

“Our short-term wins are important mile markers, but they are not ultimately the things that sustain us, our work satisfaction, or indeed the health of the university,” President Kent Fuchs told members of the UF Communicators Network at its Breakfast Buzz meeting in January.

Thinking Differently About Goals and Wins

Thank you, Florida, and thank you for this opportunity to speak. It’s great to be with you this morning.

I want to start today by expressing my personal appreciation to each one of you for your work in telling the many stories of the University of Florida – and for telling them so well.

Having begun my sixth year as president this month, I’ve had the chance to work personally with many of you and I have seen the university benefit from the work of all of you. I am so grateful for your effectiveness, creativity, and commitment.

In recent years, UF has moved up in the rankings, significantly grown philanthropy, dramatically increased student applications and more. All have depended on effective communications by you, as has public awareness of our achievements.

Communication has been the single most important factor in lifting UF’s reputation to where it is today. Thank you for making that happen.

We are a very goal-driven university, and since it’s January, I’m sure many of us are thinking about our goals or objectives for the year ahead. In my talk this morning, I am going to focus on goals. Not what we usually mean by that word, but rather something more important, something more timeless. My objective this morning, my goal this morning, is to get you to think a little differently about goals.

Before we begin, I want to acknowledge up front that my remarks will refer to the university as a single entity, as a whole, but in reality we are composed of hundreds of different entities and organizations and programs and departments and colleges. What I will say will relate directly to all those hundreds of entities, even though my examples are about UF as a whole.

UF has had and continues to have some very specific goals.

For example, our goal has been to double our annual philanthropy. In 2014, it was $302 million, and it was $526 million last year, and either this year or next year we will reach our goal of doubling our annual philanthropy.

I have had a goal of doubling student applications. We had 29,000 freshman applications in 2014, and we will have close to 50,000 applications for this fall and will in a year or two accomplish our goal of doubling the number of applications.

We established a few years ago a goal of growing our faculty size by 500, the only university in the nation with such a goal, and indeed we are close to achieving that goal.

In 2014 our student-to-faculty ratio was one of the worst among the AAU universities, at 21:1. Now we are at 18:1, and we expect to achieve 17:1 this year.

Our minimum wage for full-time TEAMs employees was $10 per hour in 2014. As of this year it is $14 per hour.

Going forward, we have new goals. We’ve raised the bar, we’ve moved the goal post, to mix my sports metaphors.

We have made the commitment to our elected state officials that UF will be ranked among the top-5 public research universities in the next two years. We will add another 200 faculty and continue on a path where our student-to-faculty ratio will be equal to the best public universities in the nation, at 16:1 or even 15:1.

Our goal is that our faculty and staff will be compensated, based on market and merit, equal to the best public universities in the nation. We are also committed to obtaining the $2 million year required to raise our TEAMS minimum wage again, this time from $14 per hour to $15 per hour.

We also have audacious goals associated with our physical environment, in particular investing $2 billion over the next five years in everything from new student housing to energy infrastructure.

In summary, the university has a lot of goals and we are making amazing progress, and thanks to your work, the world knows about that progress.

The concept of a goal brings with it an end point, a destination, a goal line that you cross. But the truth is that a university is not about endpoints or goal lines.

What got me thinking about this was reading a new book by Simon Sinek called The Infinite Game. Some of you may recognize Simon Sinek as the author of Start With Why, based on his popular TED talk. Sinek’s work is not what you would call scholarly, but it makes me think in new ways and it is easy to read, so I like it!

In The Infinite Game, Mr. Sinek criticizes our emphasis on goals or “wins” and indeed our habit of framing our activities as a “game.”

It’s fine to think about winning an athletic game, he says. But we never speak about “winning” a relationship, a friendship, a marriage, or partnership.

We don’t “win” careers, fulfilling hobbies or happy lives. We approach these most-important aspects of life with a completely different frame of mind, one that is not based on short-term “goals” or “wins.”

Mr. Sinek argues that we need to cultivate that same frame of mind for the organizations to which we dedicate so much time and energy and to our work lives.

Clearly, we have deadlines, things that need to be accomplished, short-term goals, objectives and metrics for our personal work and for our university – and it is important to pursue those and to measure our progress. However, that is not what we are really all about nor is that what our university is all about. We are engaged at UF in what Sinek describes as “The Infinite Game.”

We may make progress toward specific goals or achieve certain metrics, and that’s great. But the real purpose of the university, and all the entities we represent is not a finite goal, but rather an infinite purpose. The purpose of our work as communicators is not finite but rather infinite.

Sinek calls these things an organization’s “just cause.”

For UF, an example of our “just cause” is education. It is seeking new understanding and creating new knowledge. It is advancing science and the humanities and embodying civic debate, scholarship and an open society.

Our “just cause” is not about finite outcomes or “winning” but rather is part of an “infinite” mindset or “infinite game,” in Sinek’s phrasing.

Universities are some of the oldest organizations in the world – sometimes lasting longer than the nations in which they reside – because they cultivate and persist in their just cause.

Thanks to the work of the people here today, I have read with interest countless stories, tweets and messages about our exceptional faculty and students.

UF political scientists working to ensure fair elections … UF agricultural scientists trying to ameliorate world hunger … engineers designing buildings that will help residents survive tornadoes and severe storms … natural-sciences leaders who are tackling the growing global problem of harmful algae blooms … and countless others.

All are great and important, not so much because of their short-term results, which indeed will come to an end, but because they embody our long-term just cause – our “infinite mindset” if you will.

It’s really important for us to appreciate and to treasure this infinite mindset because if we put all our focus and conviction in short-term goals, objectives and metrics, when we achieve those goals, they will seem small, lacking the depth we need.

Our short-term wins are important mile markers, but they are not ultimately the things that sustain us, our work satisfaction, or indeed the health of the university.

When I spoke to this group two years ago, I presented five “asks.”

The first “ask” was to project a sense of optimism and excitement. The second was to have plans and aspirations for the future. I asked you to reach hearts and emotions, to show love for the people of UF and … for my fifth ask … to leverage each other and be more aligned.

Like our infinite mindset these asks have no finite duration or set outcome, but it’s obvious to me from the university’s progress that you have taken them to heart. So, I’m going to push my luck and end my talk today with more asks – just two this time!

For my first ask, I ask that as you communicate stories, videos and messages about UF, that you not only communicate what we have done that has been so effective, but you also seek to get across our just cause and our infinite mindset.

For my second ask, I ask that you think about and remind yourselves that you personally are part of a just cause or “infinite game,” both here at the university, and at home in your own lives, and wherever you find yourselves in the future.

With that … and since we don’t have infinite time today … I’ll wrap it up so that we can begin the Q&A. Thank you!